Warning Signs 5

The cafeteria, with seating for up to 500 students at lunch or as many spectators for evening school plays, felt cavernous with only three occupants, the squeaking of Jimmy and Double-J’s sneakers on the tiled floor echoing off the concrete walls. Dan waited for the twin metal doors to close behind Annie, then walked slowly to the center of the floor.

“Watcha distance.” Jimmy’s command seemed to draw Double-J, the burly teen’s right arm punching forward, threatening. The older man’s blade flashed under the pale overhead lights, metal kissing metal, followed by a slash against the teen’s arm. Double-J grunted, spun quickly on his heels, returning to his starting line.

Dan clapped his hands twice, quickly. “Hold up.”

Double-J raised a dismissive hand. “One more.” His voice tired yet defiant.

“Masks off.” Dan nodded to Jimmy, who responded by bringing his legs together, left hand reaching under his mask, lifting.

“One MORE.” Double-J punctuated his command with a foot stomp just behind the makeshift starting line, one of several borders between black and white tiles.

Jimmy, mask dangling from his left hand, right arm already extending his blade in salute, scanned back at Dan, eyes wide, his placid face waiting for the coach’s instruction. Dan’s eyes caught a corner of white protruding from Jimmy’s pocket — the letter.

“We’re done here.” Dan stepped into the makeshift strip, his eyes commanding Jimmy to complete his salute.

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